The Science (Art?) of Getting Your Child to Sleep

Written by Dr. Carosso
It’s fascinating how parents have such a difficult time with their children’s sleep. Kids won’t go to bed, can’t fall asleep, won’t stay asleep, won’t sleep alone, want a drink or snack, awaken and get in the parent’s bed, sleep walk, or have night terrors.  Parents typically find themselves awake at 2:00 AM with their child, sleeping with their child, and bleary-eyed the following morning. What is a parent to do?

Fortunately, there are answers.

First, to the extent that we can imagine, lets think back to the ‘good old days’ before electricity. As far as we can tell, people spent daylight hours out-of-doors in ‘real’ light. As evening approached, light slowly dissipated and the family ventured in-doors, with low light thru candles or a lantern, and the family environment calmed and quieted before bed. The process of going to sleep actually took place over a period of hours in a gradual, natural, and unencumbered manner.

Compare this pleasant and sleep-inducing process to what our kids experience in these modern times. It’s a wonder that any of us sleep. We are exposed to unnatural light during the day (light bulbs), way too much light at night, we’re over-stimulated by television and videos, and it’s typically only exhaustion that finally overtakes these sleep-inhibitors.

Here are some helpful sleep tips:

-Get your child up early, on-time, in the morning. No nap during the day unless you find a 15 minute nap is helpful (children should be done napping by four or  five years of age).  

-Get your child  exposed to outdoor light during the day.

-Activity and exercise is vital.

-Create a calming effect as evening approaches, turning down the lights, TV, and computers; reduce stimulation.

-Maintain a consistent bedtime routine complete with warm bath and warm milk.

-Quiet time should precede bedtime, then move to night-time prayers (asking Jesus for a good rest and fun dreams) and reading a bedtime story.

-Some children respond favorably to one to three milligrams of melatonin an hour before bedtime as directed by the child’s pediatrician. 

Going to sleep is a process, not an event. Implement these strategies and see the difference. Pleasant dreams. 

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (cpcwecare.com), a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh (autismcenterofpittsburgh.com) and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (dyslexiatreaters.com).